Rachel Montgomery, Collection Development Librarian
Genevieve Cogman is releasing her fifth book in the Invisible Library series this November. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it has magic, libraries, magic libraries, magic librarians, and dragons. It also stars “time-traveling Librarian Spy Irene,” a name inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Irene Adler. In other words, it’s all my book-loving, librarian candy in one place.
Irene has faced off against kidnappings, fae and dragon antagonists, and an evil villain, but in The Mortal Word she finds herself tasked with finding out whodunit in a high-profile murder mystery set against a peace summit in an alternate 1890s Paris. As a huge fan of the series, I’m thrilled that Ms. Cogman agreed to answer some questions for us.
|The words “time-traveling Librarian Spy” bring joy to my library nerd heart. Where did the inspiration for Irene and the Library come from?
It started with the idea of an agent collecting books for a hidden library – and when I thought of having multiple alternate worlds, then the Library developed into an interdimensional location, which could reach all worlds (and borrow books from them). I took inspiration from [Terry] Pratchett (the Librarian and L-Space), Neil Gaiman (the Library of Dream), Ursula Le Guin (wizards and the names of things), the INS/MV roleplaying game (the library of the Archangel of Destiny), Michael Moorcock and Louise Cooper (Law and Chaos), folklore and mythology, and lots of other sources. Not to mention Doctor Who, an influence since childhood – with lots of running away from people chasing . . . I have a good memory and I know that I’ve borrowed – but I hope that I haven’t copied-and-pasted too much.
Irene and company travel through alternate dimensions to different time periods and varying levels of magic and technology, but most of the settings are still fairly familiar, from Victorian London to Venetian Carnival. Why did you set The Mortal Word in 1890s Paris?
Ultimately it was because I wanted to include a very specific location in the book, which was in Paris during a certain period. (You’ll know what it is when the characters get there.) In more general terms, though, I wanted an interesting, luxurious, dangerous location for the peace conference, and one where Vale would be able to function fairly well (given that he occupies a fairly large part in the story).
The Mortal Word has more of a Holmes/Poirot murder mystery vibe than your previous books, with Irene and an investigative team conducting witness interviews and searching for clues. Did your writing process change for this book?
One thing I ended up doing was writing down a timeline for “events in the book plus several days beforehand” in order to keep track of everyone’s nefarious goings-on, and exactly who knew what at which point in the story. That made it easier to avoid inconsistencies. I also found it more difficult to handle things so that people’s deductions didn’t come across as either too far-fetched or too lacking in scope. And also, there was the problem that I think any writer has when Holmes (or a similar character) is investigating a murder, but isn’t actually the protagonist – how does one handle things so that the protagonist gets to be the hero, but at the same time the Great Detective isn’t devalued?
There is an amazing cast of characters in this series. Do you have a favorite character, or a favorite character to write?
The Fae are often the most fun to write, because one can go gloriously over the top with their dialogue and behaviour. In this particular book, I think I had the most fun with two new antagonists – the Cardinal (who I imagined voiced by Charlton Heston) and the Blood Countess. When it comes to the regular characters, it’s always entertaining to write Irene when she’s irritated and her mental commentary is outpacing her verbal dialogue. Even more so when she cuts loose.
The Invisible Library series has so many of my favorite things—from heists to magic to librarians to dragons—that I feel like the series was written just for me! What do you find irresistible in a book?
I don’t really have a good answer to that, because I’ve enjoyed so many different things. I like to be able to immerse myself in the story, whether it’s analogue-China, Regency England, urban wizardry, magical accountancy, murder, mayhem, or yes, dragons.
I’ve heard that there are going to be more books in the Invisible Library series. What’s next for Irene and the Library?
Oh dear, what can I tell you that won’t have the Editorial Ninjas sent after me . . . Book Six: Irene dangles off a diving board while wearing a bikini, over a swimming pool of sharks. Possibly. Also Vienna, crown jewels, thefts, and lorry chases. Book Seven: Everyone wants their friends to be friends, but things get more awkward when one’s enemies become each other’s friends. Also necromancy, submarines, and other fun stuff. Book Eight: Irene gets proactive.
Do you have a favorite library memory?
The library at my old school (which I understand has since been remodeled) – there was a section of it which was mostly reference books but which also had some bits of fiction that had been filed in there for some reason or other. It wasn’t much frequented, apart from when people were looking for somewhere really quiet to do some work. I remember drifting round there and just poking at whatever was on the shelves, and reading in an undisciplined but fascinating way. The bookshelves were dark wood and the floor was light wood tiling, and the place was beautifully quiet. I remember reading all the way through Kobbe’s Opera Book and all the opera synopses there, and CS Lewis’s Now We Have Faces, and Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and other things too.
What are you reading right now?
Point of Sighs by Melissa Scott, the latest in her Astreiant series. It’s excellent. Highly recommended. Thank you for reading my books!